Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Iowa’s cold-hearted system leads to hypothermia

Photo from Gazette.com: "Personal items and trash are strewn about the homeless camp under Iowa City's Benton Street bridge Thursday. Transient Sonny Anthony Iovino, 55, was found dead from hypothermia under the bridge Wednesday."

The cause of death for Sonny Iovino is officially listed as “hypothermia.”

But it is clear he was a victim of something equally as chilling – a system that bounced him around, seemingly unable (or perhaps unwilling) to help him.

Iovino was a familiar face to Iowa City police, and was repeatedly picked up in the past 5 years on charges like disorderly conduct, public intoxication and simple assault. In fact, “In the first seven days of November, he'd had five encounters with police.”

So fittingly, it seems from news stories that it was the police who tried the hardest to get him help. Yet all the doors were closed to him because he was severely mentally ill and belligerent – a combination that too often fails to ignite compassion.

When officers took Iovino to the VA Center, he was turned away because he was uncooperative.

When the doctor asked to take his vital signs, Iovino made what reports called an inappropriate comment. "I take that as a no," UI Police Officer Alton Poole reported the doctor as saying. The doctor released Iovino back to police.
Yet, when officers then transported him to jail, he was turned away because he was too sick.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek told The Gazette the jail won't admit anyone with an immediate medical need. He said the doctor's note indicated Iovino needed hospitalization for mental illness.
He was behaving erratically, and was, in fact, nearly naked in a city where the average temperature in November hovers at 31 degrees. Yet he couldn’t get the help he clearly needed.

The spokesperson for the medical center that released him back to police said hospital officials did all they could:

"If somebody doesn't want to be treated, you can't treat them."

Whether officials are ignorant of state law or willfully ignore it, the result is the same. In reality, Iowa has the option of assisted outpatient treatment, and actually uses its law to a certain extent, but not as much as it could, mainly because of its restrictive eligibility standard.

Iowa's commitment standard basically holds that to be eligible for outpatient treatment or hospitalization, the person must lack sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions concerning treatment AND is either (1) a danger to self/others, including that of serious emotional injuries to family members and others OR (2) unable to satisfy need for nourishment, clothing, essential medical care, or shelter so that it is likely that the person will suffer physical injury, physical debilitation, or death.

From news reports, it sounds like Mr. Iovino met that criteria. Perhaps everyone was tired of trying to help him. Perhaps his attitude and belligerence made him unpleasant to interact with. Perhaps everyone was busy and didn’t want to take the time.

The end result should shame everyone involved.

Labels: , , , ,